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Fair Elections: Friday, July 17

A non-partisan aggregation of news and commentary assessing the foundation of America's democracy: its election infrastructure.

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Week of Friday, July 17

This week in gerrymandering: Oregon's battle for non-partisan redistricting

  • On Wednesday, the Oregon Attorney General asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to block a lower court's order that paves the way for a non-partisan anti-gerrymandering measure to be on November's ballot.
  • Some background: The "People, not Politicians" redistricting measure, sponsored by the Oregon League of Women Voters and several government watchdog groups, would place the task of redistricting in the hands of an independent, non-partisan commission.
  • The measure threatens Democrat control of the issue: for the first time in over 50 years of redistricting battles, one party controls the governorship and both legislative chambers. They would not have to negotiate with Republicans.
  • Why this matters: Attention to independent redistricting commissions has increased in the last decade. While multiple states have used commissions for decades, the Supreme Court ruling in favor of their constitutionality in 2015 has led to voters across the country shifting the task of redistricting to independent task forces. With redistricting coming up after the conclusion of the 2020 Census in a fiercely partisan political environment, these independent commissions may be key to restoring fair districting.

This week in candidate selection: New York's generational political shift

Mondaire Jones

  • After ballots were cast for congressional and state legislature seats last week, insurgent Democrats in New York were poised to topple incumbents in what as seen as a shift in voting preferences. Many of the insurgent candidates are people of color, while many of the longtime incumbents are white.
  • Some background: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's surprising victory over one of the House's highest-ranking members in 2018 gave voters and progressive groups the confidence to take on entrenched incumbents.
  • If elected, two candidates on this year's ballot, Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, would be the first openly-gay Black members of Congress. Mr. Jones won his district primary, even though his closest challenger, a former federal prosecutor whose father is a wealthy pharmaceutical executive, outspent him by a four-to-one margin.
  • Why this matters: Momentum for minority representation continues to rise. Since Trump's election in 2016, the Democratic Party has seen a surge of women and Black political candidates. The racial disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 and George Floyd's death have also accelerated the political shift. Races in Virginia and Kentucky suggest this shift is not occurring in New York alone.

This week in voter education: Calls for tougher action on misinformation and propaganda

  • The opinion piece by Emma Briant of Bard College highlights that current efforts to stem the tide of misinformation are only reactive: tens of millions of dollars are spent tracking and monitoring content on social media platforms, without a long-lasting or effective solution in mind.
  • Some background: Briant's article condemns the lack of progress since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, when millions of Facebook users' personal data was harvested without consent for political advertising in the largest leak in Facebook history.
  • Why this matters: With misinformation rampant on social media, knowing what is fact or fiction takes a discerning eye. In recent months, social media platforms have pledged to combat misinformation on their sites, which is all well and good - however, success has been limited.Twitter's rigid fact-check rules have allowed a lot to slip through the cracks, and even with mounted pressure, Facebook has been slow to take action as evidenced by this investigation. For now, it's important to remain smart and do your research.

This week in voter registration: Coronavirus and the history of voter suppression in Alabama

  • In Alabama, two lawsuits challenge the state's absentee and in-person voting laws. Plaintiffs argue the rules restrict voter turnout, heighten the risk of COVID-19 spread, and impact communities of color the most. The lawsuits seek to make absentee voting the new normal, while doing away with Alabama's photo ID requirement.
  • Some background: Alabama has a long history of voter suppression. Literacy tests, property requirements, and more have been required to vote in Alabama. While those tactics were repealed in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Alabama is still woefully behind. The state is one of the last remaining where an excuse is required to vote absentee, and early voting is not available. A 2011 law that requires voters to have one of several specific kinds of government-issued photo IDs disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities.
  • The 2011 Voter ID law was passed to combat voter fraud - but with 19 cases in as many years, the necessity of extra protection is questionable.
  • Why this matters: Voter suppression has been of particular focus in the Southern U.S. in recent years. The 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams brought the issue to a head. Should these lawsuits be won, the Alabama voting landscape would be dramatically altered. Doing away with the photo ID law has the potential to allow many more Americans access to voter registration.

This week in voting: Mail-in ballots and coronavirus protections

mail coronavirus post officePhoto by Pope Moysuh on Unsplash
  • Discussions about expanding mail-in voting rights have increased in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
  • Some background: Many Republicans fiercely oppose expanding absentee voting. Their concerns are backed by President Trump, who has blasted the idea on Twitter, making false connections between absentee voting and voter fraud.
  • A senator whom has yet to weigh in? Thom Tillis of North Carolina (R), known for overseeing the passage of one of the most restrictive state voter suppression laws in the country during his time as state House Speaker. Tillis is up for re-election this year, and his reluctance to take a stance on the issue may damage his credibility within his party.
  • A viral post on Facebook falsely claimed the Supreme Court struck down voting by mail. In reality, the high court rejected a request by Texas Democrats to expand absentee voting within Texas only. Nonetheless, the post, viewed hundreds of thousands of times, only fuels misconceptions about the absentee ballot debate.
  • Why this matters: Expanding absentee voting rights would protect both voters and election from increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. It would also potentially grant access to the polls to those who have been historically oppressed, either through strict laws or lack of access. Currently, five states conduct elections entirely by mail. The pandemic could force that number to rise as states grapple with a rise in cases.
  • In the meantime, some states are ramping up funding to prepare for in-person voting in the midst of a pandemic. Wisconsin's five largest cities were granted a combined $6.3 million to aid in opening additional polling sites, cleaning sites, buying protective equipment for workers, and handling absentee voter requests.

This week in voter registration security: Indiana creates new voting data system

  • Indiana passed a law withdrawing the state from a non-partisan system (ERIC) used to streamline voter data across 30 states, replacing the system with a homegrown alternative (IDEA).
  • Some background: Supporters of the law didn't trust ERIC, citing too much dependence on a central body, and wished to see Indiana managing its own voting data. Critics of the law compared it to a similar program used in Kansas that has a history of removing voter registration with little to no warning. Some claimed problems like voter suppression would continue to persist.
  • Why this matters: Voter registration security is extremely important to ensuring Americans access to the vote. Should the new program have issues like the critics mentioned, it could be detrimental to Indiana's voters and discourage a strong turnout.

This week in vote tabulation: COVID-19, short staffing, and lack of funding

  • An investigation by USA Today Network and Columbia Journalism discovered that a lack of funding trickling down to election officials has "local jurisdictions literally relying on philanthropy to help pull off this election."
  • Some background: Georgia's McDuffie County struggled to handle the state's primary on June 9. Two of the Election Director's three staffers were out with COVID-19, and over 2,500 absentee ballots were waiting to be counted by hand. With no budget to hire workers, she relied on a handful of county employees and some teenagers.
  • Why this matters: Dozens of recent interviews with election officials across the country suggest that the patchwork electoral system is fraying. The pandemic has tacked on millions of dollars of unexpected costs to the November elections, and as of now, money has not been seen by local officials to help pay for it.

This week in good news: Increased accessibility for ASL users

american sign language voting

Finally, some food for thought: Why voting in sports arenas is a good idea

About the author(s):

Gwen Ranniger

Gwen Ranniger is the former Communications and Engagement Manager at Environmental Health Sciences.

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